Swiss supplier secures recycled PET plastic for wind turbine blades

Materials World magazine
28 May 2019

A Swiss company has acquired a PET recycling operation in Italy, to help turn recyclable materials into wind turbine blades. Shardell Joseph reports.

Zurich-based materials supplier Gurit Holding AG, Switzerland, is securing a supply of PET plastic by buying a specialist Italian processor. The newly formed company, Gurit Italy, has signed an agreement to acquire Valplastic’s PET recycling production facilities in Italy for an undisclosed price, in a transaction that was scheduled for completion by the end of the May.

In a bid to continue sourcing recyclables for its own materials and technology, the investment will further Gurit’s ability to supply recycled PET core material production assets globally for wind and non-wind industry customers. Gurit acquired Valplastic to gain growth in this part of the value chain, allowing it access to sufficient feedstock, quality-controlled and properly blended PET for extrusion.

‘The site receives recycled PET bottles from the Italian market and converts them into PET-flakes and granulates,’ Gurit Head of Marketing Corporate Communications, Thomas Nauer, told Materials World. ‘These granulates will then be processed – extruded – at another site.’

Gurit specialises in the development and manufacturing of advanced composite materials, related technologies and finished parts and components. This includes fibre-reinforced prepegs, structural core products, gelcoats, adhesives, resins and consumables.

According to Nauer, the acquired facility is close to an existing Gurit extrusion plant and has had a long existing relationship as a supplying site. The transaction will allow Gurit to further secure quality and cost-effective raw material supplies for its PET strategy and link the value chain elements. Focusing on the supplying of wind turbine blades, the company will be outsourcing its manufacturing skills from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and later supply this technology to customers within the energy industry.

‘OEMs are in this case mainly blade manufacturers, which could be turbines integrated installers or specialist companies building blades as a subcontractor,’ said Nauer. ‘Blades are large composite elements primarily built out of glass or carbon-fibres, resin/adhesives and core materials with a gelcoat or similar.

‘Certain OEMs have been using these type of products on a global basis and so a large portion of already installed capacity has been done with the integration of recycled PET foams.’

According to Gurit, the growing dimensions of the wind blades creates enormous challenges for OEMs, as the longest blades today weigh more than 18 tonnes each. Gurit actively looks for new material solutions needed to keep the blades as light as possible to also maximise their strength, stiffness and durability.

Investing in wind

Renewable energy capacity has continued strong growth in a decade-long trend. According the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2019 report, the annual increase of 7.9% was boosted by additions from solar and wind energy, accounting for 84% of growth. A third of global power capacity is now based on renewable energy.

‘Through its compelling business case, renewable energy has established itself as the technology of choice for new power generation capacity,’ said IRENA Director General Adnan Z Amin in a statement.

‘The strong growth in 2018 continued the remarkable trend of the last five years, which reflects an ongoing shift towards renewable power as the driver of global energy transformation. Renewable energy deployment needs to grow even faster, however, to ensure that we can achieve the global climate objectives and sustainable development goals.’

Wind power is on the rise. As a clean fuel alternative, wind energy offers many advantages of being domestically sourced, sustainable, cost-effective and can be built on existing farms, which can boost the economy for rural areas.

According to the IRENA data report, global wind energy capacity increased by 49GW in 2018. China and the USA continued to account for the greatest share of wind energy expansion, with increases of 20GW and 7GW respectively. Other countries expanding by more than 1GW were Brazil, France, Germany, India, and the UK.